Therukoothu is a traditional street play of Tamil Nadu. The art of entertainment had reached to its peak in Tamil Nadu at an early age. There were mainly three forms of entertainment in ancient Tamil Nadu. These include the `iyal` (literature), `isai` (music) and `natagam` (drama). All these had their roots in the rural folk theatre like `therukoothu`, an energetic living theatre of Tamil Nadu.
The art form `Therukoothu` is more popular in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu. This street play is generally organised in the villages of Tamil Nadu during the festivals in the months of `Panguni` i e, in March-April and Aadi i, e, July-August. The Therukoothu play generally commences in the late evening and concludes only during the late hours of the nights. The performers of this art form keep the audiences stick to its end and nobody leaves the play in the mid-way. Actually, the performance is so attractive that no one can think of leaving half way. The usual timing of Therukoothu performance is from 9 pm till sunrise.
The term `Therukoothu` literally means street drama. This folk theatre of Tamil Nadu is still popular among the rural people. The artists themselves give the introduction of the roles. In the performance of Therukoothu, more importance is given to the songs and not to the dialogues. Therefore, the artists take formal training to sing in their own voice in a high pitch. They are also trained to deliver lengthy traditional dialogues. It is generally performed on the base of the stories from great epics of India such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Sometimes the stories from Tamil classics such as the Periya Puranam and Skanda Puranam are also taken to perform in Therukoothu.
According to the traditional system, only the male members can be seen in a Therukoothu troupe. It is organised mainly during the summer months when there is little agricultural work. The performers wear complex and heavy costumes and make up. They put on high towering head dress, sparkling shoulder plates and wide colourful skirts. They put on elaborate make up which helps to transfer the audience into the world of the mythological characters. The orchestra of `Therukoothu` consists of a `mukhaveena`, a `mridhangam`, a harmonium and cymbals played by the natuvanar.
The make up and costumes are given high importance in the performance of Therukoothu. It is generally performed at a place where three or four streets meet, in the open air. Before the performance starts, the place is lit up with gaslights. The singers and music troupe sit on the side on a bench. The men artists also perform the female roles. The performance consists of story telling, dialogue rendering, songs and dance all by the artists. So, only an all rounder can be a member of this troupe.